TV shows and movies often feature casinos for a reason: High stakes are built right into the setting. And while most Iowa casino crimes may not approach the dramatic levels of “Ocean’s Eleven” or the like, sometimes more goes on than just the surface slot machine bells and blinking lights.
Cornelius Clay of Sioux Falls, 40, was arrested Feb. 28 at Grand Falls Casino & Golf Resort for allegedly jackpot switching. He is accused of paying someone else to claim his jackpot.
Clay charged with two felonies
Iowans and people visiting Iowa have a plethora of casinos at their disposal. There are 19 commercial casinos and four more tribal-run casinos. Unfortunately, Iowa online casinos are still illegal. Iowans can play slots and also some table games at online sweepstakes casinos that do not use real money.
According to KIWAradio, Clay allegedly attempted to abscond with post-tax winnings from a $1,464.40 slot jackpot at Grand Falls, north of Larchwood. He tried to avoid paying money owed to the state of Iowa by paying someone else to claim the jackpot. He then kept the remainder for himself, according to the incident report and nwiowa.com.
Charges against Clay include:
- Avoiding offset while gambling
- Solicitation to commit a felony
- No valid driver’s license
Attempting to avoid offset and solicitation are both Class D felonies. Clay could get a sentence of up to five years in prison.
Clay allegedly owes $35,000 in child support
After winning an initial jackpot at about 3:30 a.m. on the last day of February, Clay won another jackpot at 9:45 a.m. He allegedly provided an incorrect Social Security number when he tried to claim the winnings. Staff stopped the transaction from going through. Clay received no payment.
It turned out that Clay owes about $35,000 in delinquent child support for seven children. By jackpot switching and thereby circumventing the state’s offset program, he allegedly attempted to avoid paying some of that with his winnings. According to KIWAradio.com, Clay knew of the child support obligations and disagreed with them.
Brian Ohorilko, administrator at the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, told Play Iowa that delinquent child support payments and unpaid back taxes are behind most cases of attempted jackpot switching. The state’s offset program legally requires casinos to screen jackpot winners against a state database and then apply any jackpot money to a winner’s debt.
People may also jackpot switch to avoid detection if they’ve registered on the self-exclusion list.
The third charge against Clay stemmed from his having driven a 2022 Hyundai Kona to the casino the day before the alleged jackpot-switching incident. Authorities discovered he lacks a valid driver’s license. In addition, he was carrying cash he’d received from a $2,000 slot machine cash-out voucher.
Clay is in jail in Rock Rapids. His preliminary hearing was on March 10.
Iowa criminalized jackpot switching this past July. Since then, charges of jackpot switching have been brought at least four times, including this latest arrest. The others involved two separate incidents at Wild Rose Casino in Jefferson and one at Hard Rock Casino in Sioux City prior to those.
Man allegedly assaults woman at Isle Casino in Waterloo
A perhaps much more disturbing incident took place just outside the Isle Casino Hotel Waterloo. Police say Nersius Adonliel Artisani, formerly known as Roger Joseph Hoffert, Jr., allegedly kicked a female in the head and punched her in the face on Feb. 23. A charge of willful injury causing serious injury was subsequently brought against him. Bail was set at $25,000.
The assault allegedly followed the victim throwing a drink at Artisani on the property’s gaming floor. He allegedly waited until she left the property around 11:55 p.m. and then assaulted her, kicking and punching her while she was on the ground, according to court records. Paramedics and police discovered the victim on the ground near the casino’s front door. She was bleeding from her mouth.
Artisani was found inside the casino hotel near the front desk. The victim was taken to Iowa’s Mercy One Waterloo Medical Center, where medical staff diagnosed her injuries as:
- Broken jaw
- Broken facial bones
- Missing teeth
- Ear laceration
She was then transferred to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.
Artisani has a history of prior assault convictions, including slamming another inmate’s head into the wall at the Black Hawk County Jail in 2020 and two other assaults on fellow inmates in 2018 and 2020. He also assaulted a hospital nurse in 2015.
Sniffing out lesser crimes at Iowa casinos
Fortunately, a few other recent Iowa casino crimes didn’t involve the harming of another. Coincidentally, they all happened at Grand Falls Casino.
Santos Estanislao Lopez-Lopez pled guilty on Feb. 15 to a fifth-degree theft charge, a misdemeanor, at Lyon County District Court in Rock Rapids. He had taken a box of men’s cologne from the gift shop without paying for it, according to nwestiowa.com.
The court ordered him to pay a $105 fine, a $15.75 surcharge, $60 in court-related costs and $89 for restitution to the casino.
Other recent arrests include John Richard Christopherson, 40, on a charge of public intoxication on Jan. 28. Police arrested Brianna Constance, 32, on Jan. 27 in the casino’s parking lot on charges of manufacturing, delivering or possessing with intent to manufacture or deliver a controlled substance, methamphetamine. Additional charges include possession of drug paraphernalia and failure to affix a drug stamp.